Cynthia M. Allen

Fort Worth’s new waste management plan isn’t rubbish

Students check out the compost bins in the Willis Outdoor Learning Facility at Willis Lane Elementary, a Green Ribbon School, in Keller in 2015.
Students check out the compost bins in the Willis Outdoor Learning Facility at Willis Lane Elementary, a Green Ribbon School, in Keller in 2015. Star-Telegram archives

At least once a week, my husband asks me about our compost.

“Are you sure it’s working? Why is it taking so long? Are those maggots I see?! It smells awful.”

That sounds about right.

Indeed, the tumbling composter where our kitchen refuse goes to die is so putrid it can make you cry from 20 paces.

The sight of onion tops melting into lemon rinds, melting into broccoli florets discarded by our children is enough to turn your stomach.

And while we’ve been collecting our table scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, yard trimmings, and fruit and vegetable leftovers for months, we’ve yet to harvest our spoils — pun intended.

That’s just the nature of compost.

It’s a tedious, dirty business.

But since we started dumping our kitchen scraps into the composter instead of the trash, our kitchen garbage needs emptying about half as much as it used to.

Most weeks, our trash can is barely half-full when we leave it on the curb for pickup.

That’s no surprise since nationwide at least 20 percent of landfill waste is food scraps.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that, after recycling, Americans produced 35 million tons in 2012. In fact, food waste is the largest source of waste in the U.S., contributing more to our landfills than plastic or paper.

In Fort Worth, food waste is an even larger portion of our garbage.

According to city estimates, food waste is responsible for 30 percent of the trash in our landfills.

Yard trimmings (also compostable) contribute another 8-10 percent of waste, nationwide, although they measure only about 5 percent in Fort Worth.

And with considerable population and employment growth throughout the region, Fort Worth needs to figure out how to manage and reduce all that waste — especially the tons of compostable garbage needlessly occupying landfill space.

Fortunately, the city has a plan to do that.

On Tuesday night, the Fort Worth City Council approved a 20-year comprehensive solid waste management plan, which includes ambitious goals for reducing, you guessed it, food waste.

It calls for an initiative to evaluate implementing an economic incentive for backyard composting and expands the city’s Master Composter program.

In addition, a siting study to identify suitable city-owned property for a new, privately operated composting facility for yard waste, food, residuals and possible biosolids from the Village Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility will be initiated.

The plan also works to address food waste on the front end by boosting public education messages that encourage smart food shopping.

Indeed, the city’s report contended that “if each household reduced its weekly food waste generation by just three pounds from FY ’14-15 levels, a 5 percent reduction in waste would be realized.”

That amounts to tons of trash — literally.

Residentially generated waste accounts for about one-third of waste in the city, and not all city residents have the means or the space to compost, so part of the plan involves business and commercial food waste, as well.

To that end, the city will be evaluating collection of food scraps from businesses for the purposes of diverting them to composting or other means of disposal.

Fort Worth’s plan is comprehensive, thus managing food waste is only one piece of the pie.

The city is also looking to increase “traditional” residential recycling to 30 percent by 2012 and is adopting a goal to recycle 40 percent of all waste — residential and commercial — by 2023.

That will require a lot of public education. The city plan calls for that, too.

Some of these programs will be expensive, but the city’s proposal states that added “future funding needs will be covered by the program fees, fund balance and “pay as you go” funding stream.

That should help ease the minds of residents who worry about the long-term costs of such ambitious goals.

Reducing waste isn’t a political thing, it’s a practical one, and the city’s efforts to cut down on garbage and increase recycling and composting are worthy pursuits.

And starting your own compost could prove a fun science project for your kids.

Cynthia M. Allen: 817-390-7166, @cjmallen12